Cleveland Chamber Choir Makes Impressive Debut at First Baptist, Shaker Heights

By Daniel Hathaway

On the eve of St. Cecilia’s Day — but obviously blessed in advance by the patron saint of music — the Cleveland Chamber Choir sang a splendid inaugural concert at First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights. Under the direction of its founder, Scott MacPherson, the new ensemble’s performance on Saturday, November 21 set a very high standard for themselves as a professional choral ensemble, and MacPherson’s programming whetted the appetite for more imaginative concert menus to come.

With only two intensive weekends of rehearsal under their belts, the 36 singers instantly impressed the ear in Gustav Holst’s eight-voice Nunc Dimittis. Singing with fine intonation, wonderfully blended tone, and strong inner energy, the singers showed just how satisfying choral sound can be without vibrato, especially in a resonant, neo-gothic space. Sarah Osburn and Peter Hampton were featured in solo passages, and the final chord was thrilling.

Renaissance madrigals used to be fair game for choruses, until the H.I.P. movement sought to restore them to their original, one-singer-on-a-part purity. MacPherson took on two famous examples, John Wilbye’s Draw on, Sweet Night and Claudio Monteverdi’s Ecco mormorar l’onde, proving that thirty-some singers can reclaim this musical territory with great success. Supple and reactive to the texts (the former about the melancholy of encroaching darkness, the latter about the restorative freshness of dawn), the Choir sang with lean tone and engaging expression, making the Wilbye sad and touching, and the Monteverdi buoyant and flowing.

Turning to romantic partsong, MacPherson and the Choir led off with Robert Schumann’s Zigeunerleben, a short but energetic choral snapshot of a day in the life of Gypsies. Anna White, Kim Lauritsen, Kevin Foster, Paul Stewart, Julie Myers-Pruchenski, and Lee Scantlebury were featured in brief solos, and Natalie Mallis and Corey Fowler took up tambourine and triangle to add a bit of color. Karin Tooley — off to the side and some distance from the choir — provided a sparkling piano underpinning. Read the review on